Numbers chapter 20 forms a chiastic structure:
1A: Num 20:1, Journey to Kadesh + death of Miriam;
1B: Num 20:2, Israel gathered together against Moses and Aaron;
1C: Num 20:3a, Israel contended with Moses;
1D: Num 20:3b-5, Moses has not brought Israel into a land of grain + water;
1E: Num 20:6, The glory of YHVH appeared to Moses and Aaron;
1F: Num 20:7-8, Speak to the rock to bring water out for Israel and their animals;
CENTRAL AXIS: Num 20:9-10, Moses + Aaron: Must we bring water out of this rock;
2F: Num 20:11, Moses struck the rock twice and water came out for Israel and their animals;
2E: Num 20:12a, Because YHVH was not hallowed in the eyes of the children of Israel;
2D: Num 20:12b, Moses will not bring Israel into the land promised them;
2C: Num 20:13, Israel contended with YHVH at the waters of Meribah;
2B: Num 20:14-21, Edom came out against Israel with a strong hand;
2A: Num 20:22-29, Journey from Kadesh + death of Aaron.
Now this incident always puzzled me. I thought it was hard of God, after Moses had served Him so faithfully for so many years without one mistake, for Him to prevent Moses from leading the people in based on this one mistake. But look at what Scripture reveals:
Moses and Aaron saw the glory of the LORD at the entrance to the tabernacle. In the past I think I assumed that the entire congregation could see His glory every time Moses could see His glory, but now I am not so sure. Sometimes, Scripture records, the children of Israel could see the LORD’s glory too. But sometimes I think just Moses and Aaron saw His glory. Sometimes, Israel saw the LORD’s glory not outright, but reflected in Moses (Exo 34:29-35), in his obedience to what the LORD had told him to do. Certainly this was how Egypt saw the LORD’s glory.
The E pairs of this structure reveal to us, that the way Israel saw the LORD’s glory was in Moses’ obedience to the word of the LORD. Moses did not obey. He was to speak to the rock and not strike it. Well, what difference does that make? There are prophetic implications! The history recorded in Torah is all prophecy for us! We are shown in the New Testament, that the Rock which gave Israel drink in the wilderness, was Messiah (1 Cor 10:1-5).
But even more than that, Moses was angry with the children of Israel. He said bitterly to them, “Hear now, you rebels!” Well, yes, anyone would be tired of the constant complaining after 38 years in the wilderness (this incident took place toward the end of their 40 years of wandering). But Moses was a type of Messiah, a type of the Good Shepherd who gives living water to those who ask for it without recrimination. By striking the rock in anger and speaking an accusation against Israel, he was not repeating the words of the LORD but the words of the enemy.
Consider this final thing: Moses further said: “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” Was it Moses who was bringing water out of the rock, or YHVH? It was YHVH of course, not Moses. Israel did not see the glory of YHVH reflected in His mighty works, as Moses and Aaron saw YHVH’s glory, because Moses and Aaron did not credit YHVH with the miracle. This is why I believe the LORD said to Moses, “Because … you did not hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel.”
Now here is the crux of the whole issue: we mentioned Heb 3 a few days ago, where Scripture explains to us that Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and did not enter in to the Land, because of unbelief. This is the gospel. We enter the Promise of salvation and life everlasting, by faith, and not by any other way. Lack of faith, or unbelief, cannot inherit the promise!
Moses’ bitterness and disobedience was motivated by unbelief, the LORD reveals (vs. 12). Because Moses did not believe, he also cannot enter the Promised Land. God is not being harsh. He is prophetically preaching the gospel of grace uncompromisingly from Torah for our sakes (1 Cor 10:11)!
Finding Messiah: Chapter 19 and the law of the red heifer for purification in its entirety is a prophetic picture of Messiah. Our first clue is the appearance of the wood, the scarlet, and the hyssop together. The last time we saw these three together was in Lev 14 and the law of the two birds, one of which was to be released to freedom after being dipped in the blood of the first bird. We learned then that this was a prophetic picture of Messiah. Here they are again – together for the last time in Torah.
For further reading:
Now in order to understand how beautifully the gospel is preached and Messiah proclaimed in the Law of the Red Heifer, I urge you to read (all from Hebrew 4 Christians):
Gospel of the Red Cow
Yeshua Our Red Heifer
The Tenth Red Heifer